Monday, April 11, 2011

A different breed of crazy: My first exposure to 100-mile races

Some scattered thoughts on the Zumbro 100, a 100-mile trail run near Wabasha that a friend of mine raced in this past weekend. I drove to the race to assist him as a pace runner which, if you're keeping track of my mileage for the drive vs. run/bike challenge I've got going on, is the reason why my driving miles all the sudden jumped from 9 to 278 (looks like I've got some catching up to do):

  • This was hardly Boston Marathon for race participation. Only 24 runners raced in the Zumbro, several of whom dropped out before finishing. Most road races are either short enough in distance or big enough in participation numbers where you almost always have someone running near you. That's definitely not the case here, where several hours can separate one runner from the other at the finish line. My friend had pace runners (myself included) for about 1/3 of the total race, and he ran with little or no company. Think about how lonely it'd get to be running on a trail in the dark (the race lasted through the night on Friday/Saturday) by yourself for hours at a time.
  • Taking place entirely at the Zumbro Bottoms state park the race venue was hardly one to encourage speedy times. The trails along the Zumbro River were in pretty rough shape from spring flooding (LOTS of sand) and the hills were pretty brutal. Aside from that, tree roots, rocks, fallen trees and just about everything else you could think of obstructed the trail at every turn. How bad was it? One participant came into a checkpoint with a sizable gash on her knee from taking a tumble on the trail ... and no one was even remotely surprised that it happened.
  • To be clear, the term "running" is used pretty liberally in a race like this. During my brief stint of pace-running with my friend, we spent a lot more time walking at a brisk pace than we did running. The little running that we did do was more or less light jogging and was reserved for downhill stretches and straightaways with few obstructions in the trail. In all fairness, my friend was already more than 80 miles into the race when I started running with him and probably wanted to strangle me when I suggested we try running 7-minute miles.
  • The winner of the race finished in about 22 hours 30 minutes (actual results haven't been posted yet, but that's what I heard through the grapevine), which broke the course record by more than hour. With some quick math, this equates out to averaging a little less than 4.5 miles per hour, or a little more than 13 minutes per mile. By comparison, marathon world record holder Haile Gebrselassie completed the Berlin Marathon in 2:03:59 in 2008, averaging a 4:44 mile for the whole thing. See what I mean about running being a liberal term?
  • When I was interviewed John Storkamp for the Arrowhead 135 article I wrote in January, I remember him saying that he preferred ultramarathons to regular road marathons because there were so many more variables to account for. After watching the Zumbro 100 up close, I finally understand what he meant by that. Aside from the aforementioned difficult terrain, there's also calorie intake throughout the race to consider (most estimations for the total calories burned in a race like this are over 12,000, which is about what my co-worker is consuming in 10 days with her current diet), night-time running to account for, clothes to change in and out of (my friend went through 4 separate outfits during the race) and a whole different level of aches and pains to deal with. From the perspective of a pace runner, there's also a much bigger variable of time to consider. In a marathon, a runner might be off a few minutes one way or the other for an estimated pace, whereas in a 100-mile race, they might be off by several hours. This came into play for me Saturday morning, when a combination of bad cell phone reception, my friend's estimation being off and my general lack of preparation led to me getting about an hour of sleep in the cramped backseat of a car the night before. Had I known what time I was actually going to be needed for pacing, I could have slept for eight hours in the comfort of a hotel room.
  • Despite wanting to quit numerous times and apparently falling asleep for a brief time at one of the aid stations, my friend finished the race, coming in at about 32 hours, 30 minutes. Not only was this his first 100-mile race, but it was also his first race of any kind longer than a half marathon. Needless to say, he got a few weird looks when other participants inquired about his racing background. Who says you need to work your way up?
  • I've found myself getting more and more intrigued by trail races lately, both because they offer more nature for scenery and they seem like they'd be easier on my knees/hips. Trail runs also combine two hobbies of mine -- hiking and running -- into one activity, so it seems like something I would enjoy. I've already signed up for the 7 at 7 Trail Run next month and I'm strongly considering the Nerstrand Big Woods Run this fall. I'm probably not going to sign up for anything like the Zumbro 100 anytime soon. That's a LONG time to run without sleep and I don't know if my body can take that kind of punishment.
  • Speaking of punishment, one runner needed ALL of his toes and the bottoms of both his feet taped up due to blistering and he walked with a stiff-legged gait reminiscent of Herman Munster when I saw him at Mile 83. Despite all that, he kept going and finished the race. I don't think I've ever seen someone in such rough shape that didn't drop out of a race. I can only imagine how long it would take to recover from something like that.

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